Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday Fancies

I'm taking a couple of days off for a long weekend, which will see the coincidence of Easter weekend with the giant book sale that has become an annual event for me. Wish me luck for some nice Spring-like weather and some good book finds.

Millie last Halloween, but equally appropriate as an Easter lamb.

Here are some links you can check out while I'm up to my elbows in piles of old books:

Julian Fellows writes a letter to fans and alludes to a Downton Abbey movie...or musical?!

In case you were wondering, this is what Donald Trump would sound like as a literary critic.

The benefits of finding a personal uniform.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Found in Books, Vol. 1

One of my favorite things about buying used books is when you come across surprises left inside by the previous owner, like an inscription or a little scrap of paper or forgotten note stuck between the pages. I've shared some of my discoveries in the past--like this dedication from an author and this secret message in a library book--and now I've decided that I will start to chronicle them more formally here in a little "Found in Books" series. My latest find was a piece of notepaper tucked into a used copy of Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson.

One side lists items needed for some type of DIY sculpture project. The crafter jotted down ideas for blocks that included: "Play Doh or clay which is built up, squeezed, dried, fired; Marble--stone cut down; Wood-shaped; Bronze" and a list of supplies that included synthetic wax, paraffin wax, and beeswax.

On the flip side is what appears to be a draft of a birthday poem that reads as follows:

"We are all so happy you're still alive
Now you've reached the age of 85.
[two lines that I can't decipher]
This will be a gala year
New hip to swing
So you will walk
You'll meet more people
To talk & talk.
No longer you'll need the arm of Frank
And your pony will be your own shank.
You're going to have some much fun
When down to the beach you'll run & run."

This may very well be the only ode to a hip replacement ever written. I'm left with so many questions after reading it. Was the hip replacement a success? Did the birthday person make it to the beach that year? And, more importantly, what became of Frank once his arm was no longer needed?

What's the most interesting thing you've ever found in a book?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

WWI in Books

Last October, I wrote about how everything I was reading and watching seemed to align around World War II. Now I've jumped back by a few decades to focus on World War I, with two of the best books that I've read recently both set during that time period.

(Vera Britain, image via here)

First, I finally got around to reading the memoir Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. Published in the 1930's, it looks back on Vera's life when she leaves her place at Oxford to serve as a nurse during the war. Brittain writes about her experiences at the various hospitals she's posted at, both in England and abroad, about the deaths of her fiance and her brother, and finally about her subsequent return to Oxford to complete her studies after the war. It's easy to see why Testament of Youth has been considered one of the definitive literary accounts of WWI. Although Brittain brings 15 years' worth of perspective to her narration , she extensively uses excerpts from the actual diaries she kept during the war. The effect of that combination makes for one of the most compelling and moving books I've read in any genre.

After reading A Testament of Youth, I can see how it probably serves as source material for more recent works set during that time period, from the early seasons of Downton Abbey to Wake, the 2014 novel by Anna Hope. As the book's description points out, the word wake has several meanings: to emerge from sleep; a ritual for the dead; and a consequent or aftermath. Set just after the war, Wake illustrates these different meanings by using three different story lines in which three women interact WWI veterans in different ways. Their stories end up being intertwined, and are also woven into a narrative that follows the journey of the body of an unknown soldier as it is removed from its resting place in a French field and makes it way to London for a ceremonial burial. This was a beautifully written novel with smart plotting and character development. I can give it the highest compliment I can think of lately, which is that I can easily imagine this being a novel written by a beloved but forgotten mid-century writer only to be reissued by Persephone Books. Happily, it was written by a modern author, a fact that leaves me eager to read what Anna Hope writes next.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Fancies

After such a long radio silence, is it bad form to pop up here just to comment on the Downton Abbey finale? I hope not. I think it's safe to assume that all of us fans of the show aren't ready to stop talking about it quite yet. There were a lot of good things about this final season (along with a few questionable things--was anyone really interested in the endless hospital storyline?) and I was glad to see things turn out well for pretty much every character, but I thought the final episode itself could have used a few more dramatic moments. I've grown so used to drastic twists and turns throughout the series as a whole that it felt strange to have the finale play out so smoothly. And while I did like Violet's closing dialogue, my ideal alternate ending would have been something that connected the past to the present day--perhaps having the last shot fade out to show modern visitors lining up to tour the house as a historic site, underscoring the ongoing theme of the disappearing aristocracy. What do you think? How did you like the finale?

(image via here)

I have quite a few links to share today, some of which I've accumulated over the past couple of months. They're not all the most current, but they are worth a look:

Keeping with the Downton Abbey theme, here's what to read and what to watch to avoid withdrawal.

Or you can wait for Julian Fellowes's next work, which is planned as an app.

An interesting look the effect high profile celebrity memoirs have on the rest of the publishing industry.

Misty Copeland as a Degas ballerina.

This cool instagram account offers its own take on famous works of art.

A way to visualize famous novels based on their punctuation.

And as you may have heard, Amazon's first brick-and-mortar store is open. I think I would prefer to visit the oldest (and also haunted) bookstore in America.


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